What Do You Sign Up For When You Identify As A Republican In 2022? Just Ask Mike Pence
On the fringes on the Republican Party, the grifters, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and fascists-- but especially the grifters-- dominate the messaging that seeps up into more quasi-respectable "mainstream" GOP outlets from Newsmax and OAN to Fox, the New York Post, the Chicago Tribune and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and, of course, into the campaigns of far right political candidates. It all starts in the sewer. And today, that sewer is in free-for-all turmoil. Drew Harwell, tech reporter for the Washington Post, tweeted this morning "Alex Jones vs. Trump. Gab vs. Rumble. Lin Wood vs. everyone. The pro-Trump internet is at war with itself: Desperate for money, some are resorting to online drama, because there’s only so many 'people you can fleece.'" Is this any way to run a political party that the pundits all agree among themselves will win decisive control of Congress in less than a year?
This morning, Harwell wrote in The Post that "QAnon devotees, are livid at their former hero Michael Flynn for accurately calling their jumbled credo 'total nonsense.' Donald Trump superfans have voiced a sense of betrayal because the former president, booed for getting a coronavirus immunization booster, has become a 'vaccine salesman.' And attorney Lin Wood seems mad at pretty much everyone, including former allies on the scattered 'elite strike-force team' investigating nonexistent mass voter fraud. After months of failing to disprove the reality of Trump’s 2020 presidential election loss, some of the Internet’s most popular right-wing provocateurs are grappling with the pressures of restless audiences, saturated markets, ongoing investigations and millions of dollars in legal bills. The result is a chaotic melodrama, playing out via secretly recorded phone calls, personal attacks in podcasts, and a seemingly endless stream of posts on Twitter, Gab and Telegram calling their rivals Satanists, communists, pedophiles or 'pay-triots'-- money-grubbing grifters exploiting the cause." And what they say today, will be dutifully repeated by enemy propaganda agencies and by intellectual lightweights like Madison Cawthorn, Marjorie Traitor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Tommy Tuberville next week and then by Ivy League-educated political careerists like Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley next month.
The infighting reflects the diminishing financial rewards for the merchants of right-wing disinformation, whose battles center not on policy or doctrine but on the treasures of online fame: viewer donations and subscriptions; paid appearances at rallies and conferences; and crowds of followers to buy their books and merchandise.
But it also reflects a broader confusion in the year since QAnon’s faceless nonsense-peddler, Q, went mysteriously silent.
Without Q’s cryptic messages, influencers who once hung on Q’s every “drop” have started fighting to “grab the throne to become the new point person for the movement,” said Sara Aniano, a Monmouth University graduate student of communication studying far-right rhetoric and conspiracy theories on social media.
“In the absence of a president like Trump and in the absence of a figure like Q, there’s this void where nobody knows who to follow,” Aniano said. “At one point it seemed like Q was gospel. Now there’s a million different bibles, and no one knows which one is most accurate.”
...Their arguments increasingly resemble the performative clashes of pro wrestling, said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher and author of a book on QAnon: full of flashy, marketable story lines of heroes conquering their enemies. The drama, he said, gives the influencers a way to keep their audiences angry and engaged while also offering them a chance to prove their loyalty by buying stuff.
QAnon is “the easiest money that you could possibly make if you don’t have a conscience, but there’s only a certain number of people you can fleece. It’s not a renewable resource,” said Rothschild (who has no relation to the famous banking family targeted in antisemitic conspiracy theories).
“The fact that they’re all mad at each other, that’s all a byproduct of the fact that they’re just desperate for money, and there’s only a certain amount,” he added. So now, he said, the us-vs.-them argument for many QAnon influencers is: “They’re the pedophiles, the Freemasons, the illuminati. I’m the truth-teller. I’m the one who’s trying to save the world.”
Although Trump is only indirectly connected to some of the increasingly personal battles, many of them show clear signs of his playbook: winning attention and overwhelming the enemy through constant, uninhibited attacks. And the animosity has begun filtering down to mid-level influencers with smaller followings, who have become divided on the basis of their loyalty to the warring camps. Some have begun marking their allegiances on Telegram with special emoji in their usernames: Three stars, for instance, means you’re on team Flynn. (His opponents haven’t agreed on a symbol yet, though some have used the three stars as a punchline.)
...Dozens of candidates who have boosted QAnon talking points are running for Congress this year, including Ron Watkins, the longtime administrator of Q’s favorite message board, 8kun, (who, as one unproven theory argues, was perhaps once even Q himself.) And Q-inspired offshoots are promoting anti-vaccine propaganda and other bizarre theories: One group in Dallas has camped out for weeks awaiting the second coming of President John F. Kennedy’s long-dead son.
The power vacuum has played out as Trump and his allies have fought not only an investigation into pro-Trump rioters’ storming of the U.S. Capitol but separate inquiries into his family business. And Trump himself has had to go on defense. After he promoted coronavirus vaccines as having “saved tens of millions of lives worldwide,” some of his most ardently supportive online communities pushed to brand him a traitor.
In an anonymous poll posted to QAnon-boosting Telegram channels asking whether Trump’s receipt of a booster shot made them comfortable getting vaccinated, 97 percent of the more than 19,000 votes said no. Andrew Torba, the head of Gab, a social network popular with the far right, posted that Trump’s promotion of “his biggest ‘accomplishment,’ the death jab,” was “so cringe.”
...“It’s become almost like reality TV, and what makes great reality TV is conflict,” Aniano said. “Conflict creates great content. And these people are content creators, if nothing else.”
Amanda Carpenter wrote speeches for far right senators Jim DeMint and Ted Cruz before becoming a Never-Trumper, a CNN mini-celebrity and a Bulwark mainstay. In her pre-dawn column today she explained what it means to be a Republican going into 2022. The in-fighting in the fever swamps on the fringes has come into the party mainstream as well. "In the old days, all a Republican had to do to make Trump happy was kiss his ass with some cheap flattery," she wrote. "Say he’s the biggest, strongest, handsomest, smartest, richest dude in history and that would be enough. But today, being on Trump’s good side requires accepting his 2020 election lie and endorsing his various schemes to overturn the results. And if you’re not gonna do that? Then GTFO. Trump doesn’t want you around. As long as Trump is in charge, your future in the GOP is dead." A little bitter?
Pence spent four years as vice president gazing adoringly into Trump’s profile and swooning over his broad shoulders only to be cast out when he refused to block Joe Biden’s certification as president. Trump told Pence, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.” When Pence didn’t, he was promptly sentenced to death, political and otherwise, by Trump’s troops who chanted “Hang Mike Pence” as they marauded the halls of Congress. Trump told ABC’s Jonathan Karl that his supporters wanted to hang Mike Pence “because it’s common sense, Jon.” Trump recently described Pence as “mortally wounded.”
...[T]he number of Trump’s own cabinet officials whom the former president can’t stand-- and who can’t stand him in return-- is remarkable.
Because here’s the rub: To the former president, being “Trump’s friend” means never saying no to him. Even when it comes to acting on lies that caused an insurrection.
It’s the friendship of the mob boss: Do what he tells you and there won’t be any trouble. Which explains a lot of the behind-the-scenes grumbling in Republican politics. The guys paying protection money never actually like the mob boss.
...Republican leadership-- who are functionally MAGA sheeple with taxpayer-funded Washington office suites-- have stood aside, unwilling or incapable of holding Trump accountable. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy initially stated that Trump had responsibility for the mob attack, but then hold him accountable via any consequences.
Both still support him as party leader and both have said that they will back him as the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, and in the midterms, will support his endorsed candidates.
If McConnell and McCarthy hate anyone more than Trump, it might be themselves for licking the boots of the man they know was responsible for an attack on their own house.
Even in Super-Duper Trump World, things are tense. In the media, people like Alex Jones are on permanent offense to push Newsmax, which pushes OANN, which pushes radio hosts and assorted conservative media websites, which push Fox News further and further out onto the fringe.
Because of the gravitational pull of these internet loons, Republicans in Congress have to answer to trolls-turned-member of Congress such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, who relishes her role as Trump’s elected enforcer.
Although Greene regularly harasses people of all political stripes, her Twitter beef with fellow Republican Nancy Mace stands out. Greene went after Mace because Mace criticized another troll-turned-member, Lauren Boebert, for her bigoted remarks about a colleague.
Former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw, a self-styled live-action dynamo of the Trump era, attempted to push back against the Greene gang. Upset over being unfairly targeted with a vote to fund vaccine systems, he issued a warning that Trump-aligned “grifters” were lying to voters about the existence of a vaccine database to track and punish the unvaccinated. Crenshaw said people needed to see the difference between “performance artists” and “legislators” and mentioned that Kinzinger, considered a traitor for his work on the January 6th committee, had voted with Trump 99 percent of the time.
For this, Crenshaw was put on blast by right-wing radio talkers who declared him a “false prophet” and said they were “embarrassed” to have helped him win his seat.
These fights were, on the surface, about vaccine politics and speech, but the reason someone like Greene gets away with it, and someone like Cheney gets booted by leadership, goes back to January 6th: Greene insists Trump is the one true president and that the rioters are “political prisoners.” Cheney doesn’t. Mace and Crenshaw waver. They stepped out of line.
And that’s what this is really all about.
It goes like this: Trump’s election deniers hate anyone who doesn’t go along completely with the lie. Meanwhile, the people who believe that Trump is responsible for January 6th and hate what he did-- as well as the people who can’t bring themselves to take a firm position-- both hate the situation they’re in.
For now, the election deniers are in charge because it’s impossible to be a Republican in good standing (with Trump) unless you attest to the lie and approve of its subsequent actions: sham audits, smears against election workers and voting machine companies, and new laws designed to make overturning the 2024 election possible.
The Trump wing isn’t interested in building a big-tent party; it wants to maintain and expand the political army that showed up for him on January 6th. And not just the randos in camo and sweatpants, but the famous people in Congress and the media, too. Those are the kind of Republicans Trump wants to elevate.
Think yes to Patriot Purge with Tucker Carlson. No to Sunday soup with Chris Wallace. Think about the Minnesota Republican gubernatorial field where, in a recent debate, not a single candidate would say that Joe Biden won the 2020 election. Think about the Senate candidates endorsed by Trump with a record of violence and a willingness to do Trump’s bidding.
What a telling combination.
As always, that’s the message of the mob boss. Do what he wants and you’ll be left alone. But say no? That’s when you get violence. Happy now?
None of this matters in districts that are red enough so that Republican candidates don't need any independent, moderate or swing voters, primarily in the old slaveholding states. But what happens when Republicans are running in places where they have to convince non-hard core Republicans that they can be trusted to represent them. Congressional Republicans-- old skool conservatives but not eager to be part of the GOP's fascist drift-- like John Katko (NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), Chris Smith (NJ), Fred Upton (MI), Jaime Herrera Buetler (WA), Rodney Davis (IL), Peter Meijer (MI), Tom Reed (NY), Davis McKinley (WV), Adam Kinzinger (IL), David Valadao (CA)... are attacked as RINOs. Some are retiring; some have Trump-backed primary opponents. All are in trouble.
Central New York progressive Democrat Steven Holden is taking on Katko this cycle. "John Katko," he told me this morning, "has not always been in the Anti-Trump wing of the party. Before the 2020 election, he endorsed Trump because 'he did not like the direction that the Democrats were taking the country.' Also, he voted with Trump over 95% of the time, only breaking with him on procedural votes and repealing the ACA, which he vote-swapped with Elise Stafanik. Katko has two far-right opponents, one (Ko) is Trump-backed. He has been on right-wing media (Fox News and Hugh Hewitt) touting a border wall and lamenting that 'the Left' is attacking him. Since I am the most progressive candidate running against him, I would think he is talking about me, and, yes, I have called him out here on DownWithTyranny, on other platforms, and in local and national media. John Katko consistently has received support from some independents in the District, but his rightward shift is turning them off. I spoke with the DC correspondent with the local paper, who is also a DWT follower, and he says that this is the most right-wing he has heard Katko in his seven years in office. That also has to do with NY’s fusion voting system, in which Republicans must rely on support from the racist Conservative Party. They have withdrawn their support for Katko in all four counties in the District (Onondaga, Oswego, Cayuga, and Wayne). If he shifts rightward, he alienates those independents and corporate Democrats who see him as 'safe.' If he shifts leftward, then he loses his primary. Remember, he's never had a primary opponent. Since the Democratic primary leans progressive, and the other two Democrats-- Francis Conole and Sarah Klee Hood-- are both fighting over the Establishment votes, I can focus on Katko’s shift more broadly. Once the district lines are clear, which we expect in the next couple of weeks, this will become even more evident."